Atoms for power; The romance of uranium
Thanks. Thanks thanks for your university grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today's program written and produced by Bob McMahon. There's the title The romance of uranium. The sound you hear is not static but an instrument called a Geiger counter. The popping and crackling tell us there is a radioactive substance nearby. And this case a piece of uranium or 10 or even 5 years
ago the Geiger counter was a new and strange word in our language one that to most people spelled danger rather than a cause for celebration. Today it is reassuring a sound that tells us that new sources of fuel for our atomic industries are turning up. And is the sound of a growing industry. Atomic power. Last week on atoms for power we discussed the shortage of conventional fuels. We know now that by the end of the century the world will need at least eight times as much energy each year as it did in 1952. And that as early as 1975 world energy use will be almost three times what it is now. We were told that here in the United States electricity consumption doubles every ten years so that if your house is 20 years old you're probably using four times as much electricity as the system in your home was built to provide.
We found that the conventional fuels such as coal oil and gas were coming in increasingly short supply and that within the short space of 25 to 50 years they would no longer be able to provide us the energy we need. Dr. homemade you're hungry but President of the Geneva Convention on the peaceful uses of the atom as a member of India's Atomic Energy Commission summed it all up for us in this way. If the per capita consumption in the world was the same as in the United States today and allowances were made on a doubling of the world population within the next hundred Yeahs which is the least that we can expect then the known reserves of conventional fuels will be exhausted in under a century. These facts demonstrate how badly atomic power is needed to supplement decreasing supplies of conventional fuels. But the logical question in many people's minds today is if your rainy M is at the present time the principal source of fuel for
an atomic reactor and if it has only taken us a little more than 150 years to exhaust almost entirely the world's existing supplies of coal and oil how long will our atomic fuels such as uranium and thorium last us. Will they to be depleted in less than two centuries time. If so where do we go from there for our energy supplies. We must know the answers to these questions. How can they best be answered. Man has only just begun to look for uranium. A few short years ago the only use he had for it was a ceramic coloring agent. Today however it represents the forms of the basic material out of which come all our atomic energy plants and atomic developments. It is extremely hard to find acceptance small amounts yet it is not a rare metal and its radioactivity makes it easy to detect. Today men are combing the most remote corners of the world in their search for uranium. This is one of the interesting aspects of the uranium story prospecting has caught the
imagination of the public again. Ghosts of the old Forty-Niners men of the Comstock the Klondike and Sutter's Mill awaken to a new sound of pick and shovel. The West is starting again. The population of a tiny hamlet in the desert country of Utah tripled in three months time when the rush began. It along with Grand Junction Colorado and Salt Lake City Utah has become one of the newly christened capital cities of the West uranium mining industry. Today signs of all types hang from or lean against whatever more solid type of structure lends itself. Here's one very like all the rest which there is an inscription written in large letters twenty eight good claims for sale cheap roaming regs for hire equipment and compressors. Behind the sign a man in a ten gallon hat sits at a makeshift desk across which the stenciled warning do not drop. Still stands out in stark black
letters. Let's visit a drug store. One of several which look very much the same. This one is in Salt Lake City on the wall behind the counter of a snack bar hangs a large blackboard and there's the results of the day's transactions on the uranium or making it look like a part of the stock exchange that somehow lost its way and headed west. Books arranged in neat order on nearby shelves bear titles like How to prospect for uranium. There are Geiger counters single ometer and maps of the surrounding territories side by side with vaporizers in hot water bottles. Most of the enthusiastic customers for this advice and equipment will get nothing for their troubles but sore muscles and a deep sigh. But prospecting is a science and I bet your prospect is stand little chance of making a real fight. They've got make up in enthusiasm what they lack in skill as Dr. Lang our northern neighbor and cattle can tell us.
Oh and a very large number of persons in Canada are now attracted to the search for uranium largely due to the over glamorous publicity. Their results so far have not been notably successful although it is true that a beginner has an outside chance of finding an important discovery. It is only an outside chance. And it is almost essential for a prospector to understand the subject at least as well as a skilled tradesman understands his. It is possible for persons in Canada to obtain this knowledge from. Prospecting classes held by various agencies and by studying readily available publications but many
failed to do so and seem to feel that it is only necessary to buy a ganger counter after which they are completely qualified. If you really have your heart set on going out to look for or we don't want to discourage you but we would like you to know what you're up against. New techniques and uranium prospecting are making it possible today to map large sections of land without going to the trouble of wandering all over it on foot. One of these is the air borne radioactivity survey which helps to pinpoint deposits of uranium over large land areas for later and more thorough prospecting on foot. Mr. Frank W. stead of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. Since 1950 from a rather humble and small start the one Geological Survey aircraft that the technique has had a rather phenomenal growth quite recently. One of the Atomic Energy Commission light aircraft started conducting surveys from a small town airport in the West.
Within two days 18 other light aircraft. But the simulation detectors were busily swarming about the same airport. This new outdoor sport of the West is no one quite obviously is following the queen bee. It is difficult to make any firm estimate of the number of aircraft now engaged in radioactivity surveying largely because of the dual use of light aircraft for transportation of people and supplies and partly for surveying itself. Our best estimate of the number of aircraft currently engaged is 100. If we assume that each of these aircraft is used for at least 100 hours of survey each year the total linear mileage of airborne surveying would be close to 1 million miles. This expansion in use over so short a period clearly indicates the effectiveness the rapidity
and the relative low cost of the method. It has been estimated that one part NH two hundred fifty thousand parts of the Earth's crust is your radio. This means it is 1000 times as plentiful as gold and 100 times as plentiful as silver and almost as plentiful as lead or zinc. Although it can be found nearly everywhere it is almost always difficult to come by. For example uranium from Canada's Great Bear Lake region must travel fifteen hundred miles from where it has been mined in a district only 25 miles from the Arctic Circle. In order to reach the first railroad uranium from the famous shingle of a mine in the Belgian Congo must be carried twelve hundred miles until it reaches the nearest sea port.
And here in the United States the greatest deposits of uranium ore to date have been found in the Colorado Plateau region. One of the most desolate and uninhabited spots in the nation. It is an erosion scarred land of many colors a land of a sharp walled the Masons deep canyons and little water. The roads are steep and rocky uranium bearing ore has found most frequently in the places that are most inaccessible. The canyon walls near the tops of the mesas. It is here that prospectors Papel way with hand picks and they wait anxiously the click of the Geiger counter. And when the click comes it is here that the first exploratory holes are dug back in the sandstone layers of the table land. The Colorado Plateau area covers a region of about one hundred eighty five thousand square miles. Reaching into five states Colorado Utah New
Mexico Arizona and Wyoming one of the greatest problems connected with the prospecting on the plateau is the problem of water. In the spring it can be found out in late summer or fall it is usually scarce and hollows of eight to 10 miles are common. But it was not always so. It is believed that the plateaus blacked top mesas were once the bed of the last. In one scene it's probably when these scenes receded some time at least 150 million years ago they left behind them marshes and shallow lakes that were overrun by giant reptiles. Parts of bones of these dinosaurs were found buried in the strange rock formations that covered the earth. As millions of years went by and the water channel shifted sands were laid down along with them they carried traces of uranium bearing minerals which it most likely bubbled up from the earth perhaps thousands of miles away.
Uranium isn't ordinarily found in large amounts. An ore body is considered large if it contains a few thousand tons not tons of uranium but tons of ore. Or in such pockets as those found in the Plateau area contains only 3 to 10 pounds of uranium to each ton that is brought up out of the ground. When we speak of Canada and the Congo and Colorado as containing rich deposits. We have perhaps chosen a not very descriptive word. Only in a relative sense are they rich and can take as many as several hundred gondola cars loaded with ore from such deposits to give us a few pounds of high grade uranium. But as a fuel is not considered so much from the standpoint of quantity as from its quality. It only takes one pound of uranium to produce as much heat as thirteen hundred tons of coal.
Or 100 uranium bearing minerals are now known to exist. But in the Plateau area the uranium occurs chiefly in the mineral Karna tight. It is a salamander a type of deposit usually found as a powder mass in the sand stones. Some deposits are bright yellow in color. Others may be pale green or gray. Still others have a brownish tinge because they are partially concealed by iron stains. In fact the aura varies greatly in appearance from one deposit to another. The Navajos and yields overrode the great Colorado Plateau several hundred years ago were the first to recognize the value of uranium but in a rather strange way. They decorated their bodies with brilliant red and yellow warplanes made from oils that they had found along the canyon was what they were using was kind of tight or the same mineral from which your rainy M is obtained today. There is a bewildering array of minerals in nature which contain appreciable amounts of
uranium. At present only the richest of these ores are being mined for their uranium content. The principal or of uranium is pitch blend which contains from 1 to 4 percent uranium and is virtually an impure oxide. We can tell the richness of a piece of pitch blend or by listening to and counting the number of clicks on our Geiger counter ours that contains smaller amounts of uranium cause the counter to fewer times as for instance a piece of your run a night or carnal type. This happens to be a piece of your run tonight. Other examples are or from one of the column Bates tunnel lights or Titan AIDS which contain even smaller amounts of uranium. So as you can see or hear rather your own Iam even in small amounts it's not difficult to detect Iridium is practically everywhere. But the main
sources of supply at present lie in the Belgian Congo. The United States the USSR Canada and the Northwest Territories and Central Europe they posits have also been found in Australia South Africa Germany Portugal Norway Sweden France Britain Bulgaria Madagascar Mexico Brazil and India. If one has to think about the problem of getting uranium they must have in his mind's eye many pictures. They must be able to picture a shingle O.B. deep in the brush land of southeastern Katanga province in the Congo. It must picture a great open gash in the earth which represents the earth's richest uranium mine. It must be able to picture barges coursing their way south from the Arctic Circle carrying the oar of the Great Bear Lake. He must see that or being lifted from barges trucked across portages to the next waterway and be loaded again. You must picture a grizzled prospector in the lonely reaches of the Colorado Plateau tapping away at an
outcropping somewhere high on a mesa. Congressman urging on behalf of the miners that the precipitous rocky roads of the region be improved so that they may get their are to market miners complaining that the method used for I saying their samples is unfair. Colleges insisting that their scientists be given a grant to work on the problem of extracting uranium from low grade ore are geologists leaving the commission's employ when appropriations are cut. Diamond growers insisting that with inflation the price per foot of drilling must be increased. Indians of the Navajo tribe meeting in sober Council to work out some arrangement whereby this new birthright discovered on the reservation will not be sold for a mess of pottage. You must understand the strong and understandable proprietary feeling which prevails in so many countries of the world such as India and Brazil and Australia. Countries which are most reluctant to deplete those natural resources which may one day spell for them great future blessings in terms of cheap power.
If we simply become suppliers toward him and uranium to the rest of the world and buy back from them reactors as in the past few born barebacked prostrations all locomotives and motor cars and of course you remain in and on the developed country and and the population will not benefit but just for that reason our atomic if it is located in every state on trying to do as much as possible. Sandals. We of course do cooperate with many countries and are prepared to take whatever help we can. But in the last resort. If it is going to be based on exemptions and on that basis of course we have set up these facilities for processing our monocytes we'll be setting up uranium plants and then later plants for treating the fuel elements and so on. I plan is to make the whole atomic industry in India eventually self-supporting. In addition to uranium itself another radioactive element which has great
possibilities as a fuel for the production of atomic power is also widespread. It can be used to manufacture a new atomic ules by the breeding process about which we will hear more in a few minutes. India is probably the world's largest producer of story of what is contained in very large amounts and Armando's ORES. I think one of the things that the Geneva Conference established. Rod stepped from the point of view of breeding Intel the reactors that say the generation of new fees are material from 32 to 30 m is probably better. Than your range and in fact we see prospects of some homo breeding in Torreon but not yet of some of breeding in uranium uranium breeding we feel it may be possible but only in fast reactors and there still some way off. I mean fast reactors are not as close as that to say
time of redoes. So from that point of view from an IQ of and in Egypt program I would say that. Once you're in business as you know you gone start on Tory I'm the one so in business turning from this is to be actually just as valuable the material assuming. How long will this will last. Well perhaps you remember from last week our discussion of the unit Q Which we said was one way of measuring heat energy. One CU of heat energy is roughly equal to a billion billion British thermal units of heat or the heat content contained in thirty eight billion tons of by Terminus or soft coal. The kind you probably burn in your own furnace. We learned that it has been estimated that the world's entire reserves of economically recoverable coal oil and gas amount to only seventy eight CU or two thousand nine hundred sixty four billion tons of coal and that very likely these reserves will be entirely consumed by
the year 2000. Here is Dr. Bob again to tell us about world reserves of atomic fuel. It has been estimated. That the total recoverable reserves Rainman 40 of them contain an amount of energy of the order of 700. If this is really so than the atomic energy. Could first provide the energy necessary to enable the underdeveloped countries to reach the standard of living of the industrialized countries and secondly. Enable the entire world to maintain a constantly rising standard of living for very many decades and possibly for several centuries. For the full industrialization of the underdeveloped areas. For the continuation of our civilization and its further development. Atomic energy is not merely an aid it is an absolute necessity. Another important fact of atomic fuel is that a little of it can be made to go a long way. So John Croft of Britain we believe and then we have not yet
proved the point that in the only stations we can extract from one ton of uranium. The huge equivalent of about 10000 tons of coal. In a single fuel cycle. But we have also had the promise of recycling the fuel in thermo reactors several times so that the energy extraction can be increased by 10 firm. We have also had the more ambitious final go. All the cheating the nuclear physicists dream. Of making use of the breeding principle. And so extracting. A great part of the fission energy you rein them in this way. We expect to make one ton of uranium
do the rock. I've at least a million tonnes of CO. Sir John Croft mentioned the breeding principle. This is a fascinating part of our story. Atomic fuel is unique in a number of ways by comparison with fuels of the more conventional type. But it's most unique quality is that it alone of all our power resources is capable of creating new fuel as the old is consumed. Mr. Gordon Dean former chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission explains this unique quality by analogy. I would like to ask you to imagine a world in which only 100 gallons of gasoline existed. When that gasoline was used up gasoline would forever be gone from the earth. But let us imagine that we can make gasoline out of water by burning the gasoline we had in the presence of water. Let us say for example that by burning up our 100 gallons of gasoline we could change 90 gallons of water into gasoline and that thereafter we could buy burning
gasoline in the presence of water. Always make new gasoline equivalent to 90 percent of that which we burned by such a process. We could quite obviously greatly stretch out our supply of gasoline but we could hardly expect to stretch it out indefinitely for we would always be making a little less gasoline than we consumed. Consequently we would run out of gasoline before we ran out of water. All the rest of the water in the world would be useless so far as gasoline production was concerned. But to pursue our oversimplified analogy still further let us assume that we succeeded in developing a method by which we could produce 100 or more gallons of new gasoline from water for every 100 gallons we burned. Suddenly we would have made it possible for ourselves to change gradually all of the water in the world into gasoline and our gasoline shortage would have vanished. Scientists have known for a long time that something roughly analogous to this is theoretically possible in the
field of atomic energy in atomic energy. There is only one fissionable fuel that occurs in nature. It's called Uranium 235 and it is unfortunately. It constitutes less than 1 percent of normal natural uranium the supply of it that can be obtained from economical uranium deposits is of course limited. But the scientists have also known for a long time how to change another much more prevalent kind of uranium into fuel by burning uranium 235 in its presence. They have also known that they can change Thore m another relatively plentiful element into atomic fuel by the same process they hope by this that the fuel production process could be managed in such a way that as much or more new fuel could be created as there was all fuel consumed. And the real significance of breeding is that it is theoretically now possible for mankind ultimately to utilize all of the Iranian they can be extracted from the
earth's surface for atomic fuel whether it is fissionable or not. All of our towns and secretary and assistant executive manager of the atomic industrial forum. It has been estimated by experts that the amount of energy that is contained in the uranium deposits of the world and also in the thorium deposits which is another potential source of the tonic energy the amount of energy in those deposits is 23 times as much as is contained in all the core and oil and gas deposits in the world. And finally sir John Cox Croft of the British commission for atomic energy speaking at the Geneva conference. We have had the fat cost of uranium supplies having to CA's throughout the world not only in concentrated deposits but in abundant dollars Shales phosphate rocks and salt. In seven countries alone. There is reported to be available. At
least one million tons of uranium. Well ensconced of uranium to out of the end of the next decade have been predicted in the conference to be as low as $10 a pound. So the evidence presented to this conference suggests that in the 1960s there have been more than enough uranium. For the nuclear power development of that decade. If we look further ahead. And combine the cost of nuclear energy produced. In the Yad 2000. With the cost of the achievement of breeding we can see. That only a few thousand tons of uranium. Would be required for this town. So there would appear to be ample Your am available to accept the
economist predicted cost and if necessary to do this carrying a still greater share of the world's energy needs. Until we achieve final and produce by fusion reactions in the light elements and inexhaustible power source for the low. That's the story of the world sources of uranium and thorium fuel for the Atomic Power that is so badly needed. It is a happy story with a satisfying ending and ending that is really a new beginning for all of us. Next week at this same time we'll find out how your car is made ready for atomic furnaces and how the furnaces themselves derive power from the atom. Transcribed atoms for power was written and produced by Bob McMahon for radio station
- Atoms for power
- The romance of uranium
- Producing Organization
- Purdue University
- WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Dr. Homi Bhabha, President, Geneva Conference on Atomic Power; Dr. A.H. Lange, Canada; Frank W. Stead, U.S. Geological Survey; Sir John Cockcroft, Great Britain; Gordon Dean, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
- Other Description
- This 15-part series discusses the feasibility of atomic power as an alternate energy source to replace depleted fossil fuels.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Advisor: Tandam, Donald J.
Guest: Bhabha, Homi Jehangir, 1909-1966
Guest: Cockcroft, John, Sir, 1897-1967
Guest: Lange, A.H.
Guest: Stead, Frank W. (Frank Walter), 1912-1981
Narrator: Richter, Walt
Producer: McMahon, Bob
Producing Organization: Purdue University
Producing Organization: WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
Speaker: Floria, Dick
Writer: McMahon, Bob
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-59-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Atoms for power; The romance of uranium,” 1957-02-15, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 25, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-4q7qsb07.
- MLA: “Atoms for power; The romance of uranium.” 1957-02-15. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 25, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-4q7qsb07>.
- APA: Atoms for power; The romance of uranium. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-4q7qsb07